Online Sales Expected to Surge as Customers Stay Home for the Holidays. Is Your E-commerce Prepared?
Here are some mind blowing numbers: According to recent reports, online sales are expected to increase anywhere from 18.5% to 35%, a sharp increase from 2019, a year where online sales jumped 14% from the previous year. So, what explains the expected boom in online sales? Well, while it may seem counterintuitive, the Covid-19 crisis is the most significant determinant factor in this regard. While many people have lost their jobs as a result of the current health crisis, the pandemic has also affected spending patterns in a way that has proven advantageous to e-commerce. Overall, many are now spending more money online prioritizing safety and convenience, while saving money on goods and services that are pandemic-sensitive, such as traveling, in-store shopping, and restaurant meals. As a result, forecasters expect online sales of health and beauty products, consumer electronics, fashionwear, and home furnishings to increase by 23%, 20%, 19% and 16% respectively. If you are an e-commerce brand, these numbers sound good, right? Well, sure. But to make the most of the holiday season, you need to be prepared to meet the challenges ahead. And that’s where Horatio comes in. Our easy to follow recommendations will make preparing for the upcoming holiday season a breeze. By the time you are done reading, the only remaining concerns should be: Gingerbread or shortbread cookies? Apple cider or hot chocolate? (Not even a close call: gingerbread cookies and hot chocolate with gooey marshmallows to boot!) So, let’s get started.
The last quarter of the year and the big holiday push can make or break many e-commerce retailers. With how upside-down 2020 has been, it's never been more critical to have customer service strategies in place to handle the upcoming rush.To this end, here are some of the questions that you should be asking yourself ahead of the holidays:
Should I consider hiring additional customer service agents to meet an increase in demand? An increase in demand likely means that you will need extra hands on deck. Nevertheless, as you consider hiring new agents, it is important to remember that the holidays require your team to be at the top of its game. This is where you might consider outsourcing your customer service to an external expert. While outsourcing is somewhat of a dirty word - we’ve all had those customer interactions with an agent on the other side of the phone reading off from a script while failing to provide a solution to the problem in question - the stigma is mostly caused by outdated notions about outsourcing. In reality, outsourcing can add a lot of value to your business. Not only does outsourcing customer service allow a business to focus on the core components of its operation, but it can also turn customer service into a source of revenue. The key to the latter lies in a top-notch customer service team, consisting of agents that have been rigorously vetted and properly trained. At Horatio, for example, we evaluate candidates through an extensive recruiting process, which assesses their experience, level of interest, and communication skills. Once hired, our agents are trained so that they become familiar with every aspect of our client’s business. We also have a policy of not sharing agents among different clients. The result? Agents that are fully committed to the client.
What tends to drive customers to reach out and will this pattern be amplified throughout the holiday season? It is essential to analyze what tends to drive customer interaction and prepare accordingly. It could be, for example, that customers tend to reach out after a negative experience: for example, when their order is delayed. If this is the case, it is safe to expect a higher number of shipping delays throughout the holiday season. Knowing that, you should prepare accordingly. Adequate measures could involve establishing clear expectations with customers: for instance, getting ahead of any issues likely to arise by informing customers of these issues. Conversely, if customers tend to reach out to ask questions about the product, you might benefit from identifying frequently recurring questions and taking advantage of automated responses or creating a knowledge base to facilitate self-service. To this point, there is a caveat: effective automation requires knowing your customers well. For instance, if you are selling a health product, it is likely that your customers are health conscious and well-versed in this regard. Your automated responses and knowledge base should reflect this fact. So instead of merely clarifying that your product is gluten-free, also clarify whether the product is certified accordingly and whether it is manufactured in a facility that processes other allergens. Creating automated responses and knowledge articles that reflect in-depth expertise of your customer base, not only will save your agents time and effort, but will also impress your customers.
What channels tend to generate a higher volume of tickets and should you expect a shift during the holiday season? Determine how the behavioral pattern of your customer base affects the ticket volume generated by each channel. For instance, it could be that your customers reach out through social media after they have received an unsatisfactory response via email. If so, this is the time to review your standard operating procedures and adjusting accordingly. An additional factor to consider is that customers will likely have an increased sense of urgency when reaching out over the holidays, which in turn could have an impact on the manner in which they decide to reach out. It is easy to imagine how customers in need for a speedy resolution might prefer to reach out via live chat, for example, as opposed to email during the holidays. The behavioral patterns of your customer base, as it relates to the channels available, should shape the manner in which you allocate agents, as well as determine your decision to prioritize certain channels over others.
And finally, as we all navigate these difficult times, remember to enjoy the holidays: add some holiday sparkle to your face mask, crank up some holiday tunes, or organize a holiday party with your colleagues over Zoom. And if you are more of an office Grinch, well, there is no saving you.
Horatio is a leading provider of white-glove customer experience and omni-channel support services. At Horatio, we like to say “do what you do best, and hire Horatio to do the rest.” Horatio partners with high-growth and innovative companies to develop their customer support strategy and provides a dedicated handpicked team to execute. Horatio’s number one focus is on providing high-touch, brand-focused customer support. Our team is equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and expertise to ensure a great customer experience every time.